As you know, traveling is one of my greatest loves… but reading is one of my greatest escapes. I’ve had my nose stuck in a book for most of my life and this trip (and access to a friend’s library account) has given me ample time to cross books off my to-read list. So… in the order I read them (because ranking books is just too hard!), here are my top 15 books of 2015 plus a sneak peek of a yet-to-be-released 2016 book!
1. Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner
If we’ve ever talked about books, you’ve heard the name Susan Meissner. A couple of years ago, her book The Girl in the Glass was handed to me by a co-worker who thought I might like it. She couldn’t have been more right. Susan Meissner’s books are like ice cream to me… Devoured quickly, I’m never ready for a bowl to be finished or one of her books to end. After The Girl in the Glass, I scoured the internet to purchase all of her books, some of which were out of print and had never been turned into ebooks, which meant that I was receiving packages from used book stores all around the country. I fell in love with the historical fiction genre as I read her books. In most of her books, Meissner weaves the stories of a woman in present times with a woman from history binding them with an item such as a scarf or a ring or a journal… Although I really loved her Rachel Flynn mystery series too!
In Secrets of a Charmed Life, Meissner takes you from present time to 1940s England as elderly Isabel McFarland shares secrets she has kept since WWII. Her story of two sisters, Julia and Emmy Downtree, as they seek refuge from the London’s Blitz in the countryside is one of passion, betrayal and the aftermath of unearthing family secrets.
2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
After reading Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train was a good, twisty read. Rachel, the main character and narrator is an alcoholic who watches a man and woman on her daily train commute, making up the story of a perfect couple. But what happens when the perfect wife goes missing? Rachel’s alcohol-fueled blackouts make her an unreliable narrator and the reader makes discoveries as she does in this can’t-put-it-down thriller.
3. The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck
When the owner of a chic wedding dress boutique can’t find the perfect gown for herself, the perfect vintage gown finds her. It’s in pristine condition despite having been worn by three brides over 100 years. Adding to the magic is the mysterious man who insists that the dress has been ‘redeemed’ for her. It’s a story about faith, promise and true love that’s not to be missed.
4. The Sweetness of Forgetting by Kristin Harmel
On my way to Israel this summer, I sat next to a man who suggested this book when he found out that my grandmother was french and met my grandfather (an American soldier) during WWII. This book is the story of a mother with Alzheimers who, in a moment of clarity, sends her daughter on a journey to France where she’ll discover that she never truly knew her mother and unearth the secrets she kept hidden for a lifetime.
5. Inferno by Dan Brown
I began Inferno on my flight to Florence, and his book provided insight into the Medici family, Dante and beautiful architecture I’d find all around the city. Add to that Brown’s flare for mystery, and I was hooked! Join Professor Langdon as he navigates one of my favorite cities in his fight to save the human race.
6. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
I read the first 130 pages of this book twice… it’s a little slow starting, but once you get going, you’ll be glad Kate Morton did such a good job setting the stage. A fellow WWOOFer and I found out we were reading this at the same time, and our conversations shifted from olives to Laurel, Dolly, Vivian, Dorothy and theories about what would happen next in the book. Morton does a great job keeping you guessing until the very end…. I think I actually “oh my gosh”-ed out loud!
7. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
I love authors who write characters who love to read. The Thirteenth Tale is the story of a famous author, Vida Winter, whose life is a mystery. Each time she released a book, she invited journalists and one-by-one, told her life story… each account more fanciful than the last and none of them true. But nearing the end of her life, she’s decided to share the secrets she’s been keeping for over 50 years and chooses to tell them to Margaret Lea, an amateur biographer who prefers books to people. The promised ghost story comes alive as Ms. Winter shares dark family secrets and her true identity.
8. Defending Jacob by William Landay
The 14-year-old son of a small town’s assistant district attorney is accused of murdering one of his classmates. His mom and dad vow to protect their innocent son, but as the case progresses, the evidence piles up. Is it possible that parents can be so blind to a child’s true nature?
9. Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
I loved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, and Songs of Willow Frost
may have been even better. Steeped in Chinese traditions, Songs of Willow Frost is a story of family, love, tragedy, sacrifice, and rebirth. Orphan William Eng remembers seeing his mother’s lifeless body carried out of their apartment five years earlier and is sure of her death until he sees her in a movie on his twelfth birthday. Determined to prove that movie star Willow Frost is his mother, he escapes from the orphanage and navigates the streets of Seattle looking for answers and a place he belongs. This book is gut-wrenching, heart-warming, and an awesome story of redemption.
10. Packing Light by Allison Vesterfelt
I’ve mentioned this book a time (or two) before… but Packing Light is an incredible story about Vesterfelt’s journey to every state in the country, but more than that, she encourages readers to look inside themselves to see what journey they are called to take. Her honesty allows readers to be honest with themselves and her bravery encourages others to be brave.
11. Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life by Shauna Niequist
A sweet friend gave this book to me just before we both left Texas— she on the great journey known as college and me on this crazy trip. Shauna Niequest is a master of celebrating the everyday, and I love her writing style. I read about her first solo travel as an early teen as my flight took off on August 19, and I took some comfort from her words, knowing that a great education awaited me in the unknown. The way she approaches each moment as one not to be missed inspires me to be more present and the following paragraphs make me want to celebrate every single moment…
“Today is your big moment. Moments, really. The life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you. The scene unfolding right outside your window is worth more than the most beautiful painting, and the crackers and peanut butter that you’re having for lunch on the coffee table are as profound, in their own way, as the Last Supper. This is it. This is life in all its glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull of the mask and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, crafted.
Your life, right now, today, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you have ever seen. You and your family and your friends and your house and your dinner table and your garage have all the makings of a life of epic proportions, a story for the ages. Because they all are. Every life is.
You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working toward, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that, the God of the universe dwells within you, the true culmination of super and natural.
You are more than dust and bones.
You are spirit and power and image of God.
And you have been given Today.”
12. Let’s All Be Brave: Living Life with Everything You Have by Annie Downs
Let’s all be Brave was recommended to me by a friend who read the book and subsequently fulfilled a lifelong dream of writing a book herself. I really liked the author, who is a resident of Nashville, and my heart is always drawn to people who love that city like I do. Downs writes as if she’s your best friend, sitting next to you at a coffee shop, whispering that she gets you… she’s been there… and encouraging you to listen to the still, small voice of God and say yes.
13. Sweatpants and Stilettos by Rachel Cleveland
Speaking of that dear friend who—while working full-time, taking PhD classes, and still being a good friend— wrote a book, Sweatpants and Stilettos follows Rachel Cleveland’s journey as she trusts God to take her from the worst ‘sweatpants days’ to the rockin’ it ‘stiletto days.’ Her conversational tone and real-life anecdotes make the zingers of self-discovery less painful to bear, and the faith woven throughout serves as the foundation on which to build once discoveries are made. Rachel uses her own life stories and circumstances to prompt reader reflection and her victories become inspiration for readers in similar situations. Encouragement abounds for anyone who reads this book whether they’re in the sweatpants or stilettos period of life.
14. Surrendered by Kariss Lynch
The Heart of a Warrior series has come to an end, and Surrendered tied up the series beautifully. Lynch (who was a co-bridesmaid with me at a friend’s wedding this summer) began the series as Kaylan weathers the earthquake in Haiti and ends… well… I can’t tell you that, but Kaylan’s journey of forgiveness, faith, family, suspense, friendship, and finding love with a handsome NAVY Seal will have you wishing for a fourth book, too!
15. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
This is the kind of book that one might fall asleep reading and then, (hypothetically, of course) wake up at 2:30am wondering whether her theories might be proven correct… and then stay up the rest of the night finishing the book only to find out that Kate Morton had another “oh my gosh” ending up her sleeve. Her books are long and filled with detail and (as the dark circles under my eyes prove) easy to get lost in. Like The Thirteenth Tale, The Distant Hours created a major character who is an author and loves to read. I love the writing advice included in this book’s pages:
“She says there are stories everywhere and that people who wait for the right one to come along before setting pen to paper end up with very empty pages”
“No two people will ever see or feel things in the same way, Merry. The challenge is to be truthful when you write. Don’t approximate. Don’t settle for the easiest combination of words. Go searching instead for those that explain exactly what you thing. What you feel.”
I also love how Morton writes about the lives parents lead before their children: “Perhaps children are never really interested in who their parents were before they were born; not unless something particular happens to shine a light on the past.” As with many of the other books I love, this one contains many storylines, flashbacks to WWII era, a family with a secret and a calculated decision in who will hear it.
I’m 4th in line to read her newest The Lake House… Can’t wait!
BONUS 2016 SNEAK PEEK: Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner
Here’s a little sneak-peek into the best of 2016… I just couldn’t wait a whole year to share with you! Thanks to Goodreads, I was able to get my hands on an advance copy of Susan Meissner’s newest book, Stars Over Sunset Boulevard, due to be released January 5.
The setting of old Hollywood and Gone with the Wind’s filming adds a layer of glamour and ups the stakes for the two women striving to get what they want most in life. Audrey and Violet’s characters are so complex and the actions they take (and the ones they don’t) make them all the more realistic. Stars Over Sunset Boulevard tests the bounds of friendship as these women face the greatest ups and downs of their life, finding a way to look past betrayal to cling to the friendship that’s shaped each of them.
What are the best books you’ve read this year? Leave me a comment… I’d love some suggestions for what to read in 2016!
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